Categories
exhibits

Paintings in Sight and Smell

A recent exhibition “Smell the Art: Fleeting – Scents in Colour” at the Mauritshuis in Amsterdam, was advertised as engaging the sense of smell to enhance the visual aspects of viewing the art. Although I did not travel to Europe to experience the show first-hand, I found it mentioned in various museum-related newsletters.

The idea of adding scent to an exhibit is intriguing, but I wonder how much more enriching the show would have been if it had also included tactile and audio elements. This post explores my questions about the choice of smell as the highlighted sensory output. My knowledge of the show is limited to the information on the museum’s website, and I do not know all the design considerations that shaped its’ creation.

Museum guests were encouraged to experience smells by using different “scent dispensers”. The smells included “a clean linen cupboard, bleaching fields, ambergris, myrrh and … the foul-smelling canals.”.

The exhibition included 50 paintings and drawings. The scents invoked by these artworks were grouped into different categories including:

•            “health and hygiene”

•            “scent in religion” (incense)

•            “scents inside and outdoors” (aromas of newly-discovered spices)

I imagine that If I attended this exhibition, I would have been left with very fleeting impressions of the artwork. The scent, by itself, would not have provided enough information for me to understand the artwork. I would not have known who, or what, was pictured in each painting.

If I were designing a similar exhibit, I would have included visual descriptions of them (accessed in some form of audio tour or mobile guide). Then, I would have included touch objects like a model canal boat, or a church bell, etc. Maybe I would have added audio effects triggered by motion sensors in front of the paintings.

My comments are not intended as a critique of the exhibit. I am just brainstorming hypothetical design elements.

As it was conceived, the exhibition made art approachable from two of the five human senses. In my opinion, adding tactile and audio components would have made the show much more immersive.

In summary, I commend the designers for adding a second sensory output to the experience of art. I hope that “Smell the Art: Fleeting – Scents in Colour” will be the first of many multi-sensory art exhibitions displayed at large, well-known museums. I hope that its’ successors will incorporate tactile and audio outputs that engage visitors in a more truly multi-sensory experience.

Categories
Sonification

Hearing the Sound of Light

It’s August and many students are returning to school. I wrote this short post to share the work of my colleagues.

Hearing the Sound of Light  is a conversational post that introduces sonification, the process of using sound to explore data. In this example, the data of interest is changes in the brightness of stars. This post appeared on the Paths to Technology blog.

Paths to Technology is sponsored by the Perkins School for the blind.

Categories
accessibility

News About The Braille on the FDR Memorial

The National Park Service (NPS) has finally acknowledged that there are issues with the size and spacing of the Braille Carved into the Walls of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. This update is posted on the accessibility page for the FDR Memorial.

Here is part of their statement.

“The artists used elements of Braille in several of the sculptures, but the size and spacing is inconsistent and was only meant to be an artistic representation.”

And “The Braille in Room 2 on the bas relief panels are the different New Deal program acronyms, but larger than life and disjointed. Those that read Braille will find them difficult to decipher.”

I documented problems with size and spacing of Braille in a report commissioned by the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee.

Here is my description of the Braille.

 “The Braille ranges from somewhat readable to completely unrecognizable. This includes the quote in the Prologue Room and the letters on the workers mural and the quotes on the columns in Room One.  My assessment is based on two facts: differences in horizontal and vertical spacing, and contrasts in raised versus indented dots.”

Although the NPS did not credit my report, I am glad that the agency recognized that the Braille is abstract and artistic.  This is a small step towards improving accessibility at the FDR Memorial.

It is important to note that the NPS published this site update on July 26, 2021, the 31st Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Also on that day, the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee held a public ceremony commemorating the ADA and honored disability leaders past and present, especially those who fought to add the wheelchair statue to the FDR Memorial. Two speakers at the event, Senator Tammy Duckworth and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton sponsored a Resolution calling on the NPS to improve accessibility at the FDR Memorial. Senator Tammy Duckworth discussed the problems with the Braille in her speech.

Kym Hall, National Capital Area Director, National Park Service also spoke at this ceremony. Director Hall did not mention the Braille, but she talked about audio described tours and other accessibility improvements.

I found the updated text about the Braille when I was on the FDR Memorial accessibility webpage looking for the audio described tour.

Dr. Fogle Hatch touches a column in the Memorial with her left hand. She holds a white cane in her right hand.
Categories
publications research tactile

In Their Own Words: Adults Who Are Blind Describe Museums

I submitted the following text as a poster for the American Alliance of Museums conference #AAAM2021, held online on May 24 and June 7-9 2021. The poster was behind the paywall until July 14 2021, and now I am publishing it for everyone to read.

In Their Own Words: Adults Who Are Blind Describe Museums

By

Cheryl Fogle-Hatch, Ph.D. and Don Winiecki, Ph.D. Ed.D.

audio description (18)

audio (5)

boring (2)

braille and tactile graphics (1)

braille tactile exhibits (1)

braille (3)

can touch (2)

can’t access independently (1)

can’t participate (1)

can’t touch (2)

disappointing (1)

dislike planning visit in advance (1)

doesn’t ask companions to read (2)

enjoy (9)

enjoys visiting with friends (1)

explore (1)

frustrating (2)

fun (1)

goes with family (1)

hands-on (2)

hard to navigate (2)

improving (1)

inaccessible (27)

information (3)

inspiring (1)

interactive (1)

interesting (2)

kids museums hands-on (1)

learn (6)

love (3)

most information is in print (1)

multisensory (2)

need more audio Braille tactile (4)

need more braille exhibits (1)

need more tactile replicas (1)

need sighted person to read (5)

no audio (1)

noise makes hearing audio difficult (1)

objects (1)

por lighting (4)

pre-recorded audio guide (2)

rely on others (2)

science and kids museums encourage tactile access (1)

small print (4)

tactile art (3)

tactile experience (10)

tactile materials (1)

tactile models (6)

tactile replicas (2)

tactile representation (1)

tactile representations of the real thing (1)

teach my children (1)

took a sighted child (1)

tour guide (3)

under glass (9)

valuable (1)

visits with group (2)

waste of time (1)

wonderful (1)

This word cloud was created at TagCrowd.com.

Background

This poster expands on findings reported by Fogle-Hatch and Winiecki (2020). Assessing Attitudes of Blind Adults About Museums. The word cloud pictured above highlights words and phrases from comments on an international survey of adults who are blind or have low vision. We conducted an online survey receiving 124 responses from June to October 2018. We asked a series of questions about the last museum visit made by a survey participant. Then we encouraged survey respondents to comment on museums generally.

Findings

Each comment was coded thematically. Most comments were classified as both positive and negative. Positive codes signify strong relationships between personal enjoyment of the exhibits and design features that facilitated accessibility. Examples:

• tactile models, tactile replicas, tactile graphics

• braille, This code includes comments about brochures and signs.

• audio description, Sometimes This code referred to tour guides and docents, and at other times to pre-recorded audio.

Emotional keywords: “enjoy” “learn” “valuable”.

Negative codes focused on instances when participants could not access exhibits independently. Examples:

• need a sighted person to read, This code refers to print labels and describing exhibits.

• under glass, this code also includes the phrase “behind glass”.

inaccessible, This code includes variations “lacks access” and “not accessible”.

Emotional keywords “boring”, “disappointing”, “frustrating”

Conclusion

These data underscore the value of accessible museum exhibits that allow everyone to enjoy their museum visits. Positive comments referenced the availability of tactile experiences (models, replicas, graphics), and braille and audio descriptions. The lack of tactile, braille, or audio components in exhibits was common in negative comments. The Survey participants valued museums despite the consensus that most exhibit content is inaccessible.

About the Authors

Cheryl Fogle-Hatch, Ph.D. designs multisensory experiences. Visit her website MuseumSenses mailto:info@museumsenses.org.

Don Winiecki, Ph.D. Ed.D., is a professor of ethics and morality in professional practice at the Boise State University, College of Engineering, mailto: dwiniecki@boisestate.edu

Categories
publications

FDR Memorial report

My report that describes issues with accessibility at the FDR Memorial is now available. To read it, start with this article from the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee.

Categories
accessibility exhibits

Braille on the FDR Memorial

Dr. Cheryl Fogle-Hatch touches the Braille letter F in Franklin in the prologue room, FDR Memorial

Recently, I evaluated the accessibility of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Memorial located on the National Mall in Washington D.C. My observations describe the experience of people who are blind or have low vision.

I describe my observations, and recommendations for improvements, in a report commissioned by the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee.

The Braille Carved into the Walls of the FDR Memorial

The Braille ranges from somewhat readable to completely unrecognizable. My assessment is based on two facts:

differences in horizontal and vertical spacing, and contrasts in raised versus indented dots.

I know that the Braille is not an accurate representation of my first and primary writing system—the pattern of dots that I learned as a child. Yet, I am impressed by the inventive and abstract nature of the artwork. The lack of interpretation about size and spacing of the Braille carvings means that sighted visitors cannot know the contradictions expressed by the abstract artwork that invites tactile experience. They think that the Braille is accurate, but it is distorted when read by touch.

Signs created in print, and Braille at the correct scale, would explain this fact.

My evaluation of the oversized and abstract Braille depicted on the FDR Memorial has been left out of previous accessibility reviews conducted by the National Park Service, the federal agency that manages memorials on the National Mall. These issues of representation are important, and I believe that aspect of the artwork deserves a place in any newly-created signs or interpretive media. I would welcome the chance to discuss such issues with park staff and consultants.

I think the inaccurate representation of Braille is comparable to the large statue of FDR where a desk chair with wheels was substituted for his actual wheelchair.

An acknowledgement of this parallel between inaccurate Braille and the desk chair with wheels enriches the experience of everyone because it shows the extent of misconceptions about crucial tools that people with disabilities use to perform so many essential daily tasks.

I wrote this post about the archives of the campaign for the wheelchair statue.

I made other recommendations in my report including:

•            Create tactile models of the oversized statues and the memorial itself

•            Add Text-based directions and wayfinding to the brochures and website

•            Build barriers around the broken fountains

My review of documentation provided by the National Park Service indicates that park staff have proposed solutions for creating tactile models, wayfinding, and mitigating safety concerns. In those cases, my recommendations are offered to strengthen future projects. Unfortunately, these documents do not include an acknowledgement of the oversized and abstract Braille carved on the walls of the FDR Memorial.

Press coverage

FDR memorial braille not easily readable – The Washington Post

A disabled president’s memorial still isn’t fully accessible to disabled visitors, a new report finds.

By

Theresa Vargas

Columnist

May 19, 2021 at 7:07 p.m. EDT

Event recording

I presented highlights from my report in a webinar “Accessibility is NOT Optional” on May 20, 2021. Here are the recording and transcript of that event.

Categories
exhibits tactile

Revisiting Touch in Pandemic Year Two

As I write this post, we are in the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic, and maybe we are through the worst of it. People are getting vaccinated. The number of corona infections is falling, and public places, including museums, are re-opening.

As of April 2021, advice from the Centers for Disease Control indicates that fully-vaccinated people can “go to an uncrowded, indoor shopping center or museum”.

Now is a good time to revisit considerations about tactile experiences in museums. In this post, I will comment on the scientific understanding of viral transmission of Covid-19 as primarily airborne, and not from particles on surfaces. Then I will summarize recommendations about touch objects and make some observations for best practices in the present and near future.

An article published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases described a study in which the authors sampled surfaces in hospital rooms to see if they could detect Covid-19 particles. They could not find virus particles on most surfaces. This suggests that “environmental contamination leading to SARS-CoV-2 (Corona virus) transmission is unlikely to occur in real-life conditions, provided that standard cleaning procedures and precautions are enforced.”

Guidance issued by the Centers for Disease control continues to recommend cleaning and other preventative measures for reducing viral transmission. This includes the now-familiar advice to wear a mask, maintain at least six feet of physical distance from others, avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and practice good hand hygiene.

Another standard piece of advice for public places is to clean high-touch surfaces at least once a day. Some examples of high-touch surfaces include pens, counters, shopping carts, tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, stair rails, elevator buttons, desks, keyboards, and phones. The precautions that museums adopt for high touch surfaces can be applied to touch objects in exhibits.

Last year, I had conversations with tactile artists about ways to adapt to new norms in the Covid-19 era. Collectively, we came up with several solutions that might allow people to safely handle objects in an exhibit:

– Proper hand hygiene can be encouraged by providing hand sanitizer or wipes in a standard location within the physical exhibit space.

– Materials that are easily clean can be chosen as touchable objects.

– Museum visitors could be provided with tactile handouts that they can touch and then take them when they leave the exhibit.

Here is a summary of our presentation on accessible touch objects. This article explains how to make tactile handouts.

I think these recommendations continue to be useful for allowing tactile explorations at museums that follow common preventative measures like avoiding crowding, requiring mask wearing, supporting good hand hygiene, and cleaning high touch surfaces. I hope that we can move beyond a fear of touching objects, follow best practices, and regain opportunities to have tactile and multi-sensory experiences.

Categories
accessibility Sonification

Hearing the Light

My colleagues at the SPACE TELESCOPE SCIENCE INSTITUTE  in Baltimore are doing great work on sonification (representing data with sound). They developed a program that adds an audio component to graphs of data.

Watch this presentation  Hearing The Light on YouTube for more details.

Then listen to this podcast to hear their reflections working on this project during the pandemic.

I will be writing more about sonification in the future. Stay tuned.

Categories
3D-printing accessibility tactile

Making and Sharing Tactile Graphics

This post highlights websites where people can search for or request the creation of tactile graphics. These projects let people share their expertise and equipment and they offer a way for people to distribute the files or the completed tactile graphics.

See3D is a non-profit organization that manages the printing and distribution of 3D printed models. People who are blind can request a model, and anyone with a 3D printer can volunteer to print it. The site has details about making or filling a request.

BTactile is a website that allows users to perform a keyword search across the databases of several libraries worldwide. The search feature includes check boxes to filter results by kind of material (3D print, braille, tactile drawing etc.). Search results include the graphic name, repository, and most files are free to download under a Creative Commons license.

The Tactile Library contains diagrams made and donated by teachers of blind children. The database can be searched by subject and filtered by the child’s age. It is free and there is no registration or licensing required.

The American Printing House for the Blind maintains a Tactile Image Library serving teachers of blind students. An account registration is required to use this database.

In addition to the tactile libraries listed here, people can refer to my post on finding 3D models.

Categories
exhibits

A Presidential Project

On this inauguration day, January 20, 2021, I am highlighting an important project documenting a historical president. Franklin D. Roosevelt (known by his initials FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States from 1933-1945. He was the architect of the New Deal and the Commander-in-Chief during World War II.

FDR also had a physical disability. In 1921, he contracted polio at age 39 and he became a wheelchair user.

FDR visited wounded veterans while remaining in his wheelchair, but he wore steel leg braces that allowed him to stand at public events.

The FDR Memorial commemorates his leadership during the Great Depression and World War II. However, when it opened in 1997, it did not accurately represent his physical disability.

More than 50 disability organizations from across the country supported the FDR Wheelchair Statue Campaign. Sixteen Roosevelt grandchildren agreed that FDR should be shown as a person with a disability. The FDR Wheelchair Statue was dedicated in 2001.

The FDR Memorial Legacy Committee is a project of the National Council on Independent Living that documents this campaign through an archive of oral histories and media clips.

The announcement of this archive states that:

“The FDR Memorial Legacy Committee (FDR Committee), as part of the DC Community Heritage Project (DCCHP), proudly unveiled the initial archives chronicling the history of the fight for disability representation” that “was led by people with disabilities from 1995-2001.”

Please visit the archive to learn about this important campaign for disability representation.

“During the unveiling event, disability rights advocates Judy Heumann and Dr. I King Jordan reflected on the impact of the campaign to represent FDR as a disabled president and the collective work that still needs to be accomplished to ensure equitable disability representation. Dr. I King Jordan exclaimed, “Disability is not talked about. People talk about diversity, equity, inclusion and disability needs to be included in those conversations. This archive is a visual way to do that.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Jordan’s statement. It was my honor to evaluate the archives for their accessibility, and my privilege to learn about this overlooked aspect of presidential history.